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Carderock's "Mad Scientist" Tells Army How Culture Affects Future

By Kelley Stirling, NSWC Carderock Division Public Affairs | Sept. 20, 2016


The Army held its second Mad Scientist 2016 event in August when scores of like-minded people came to hear several "mad scientists," including Garth Jensen, director for innovation at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division, speak about the future of warfare in 2025 and beyond.

Jensen spoke on culture and innovation at the conference, held at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and also sat on a panel about the strategic security environment, which was the theme of the conference.

"For the Army, it's a form of strategic planning," said Jensen. "It's a way to get different mindsets, different people than their traditional folks, to help them think about the future."

The Army's Training and Doctrine Command developed Mad Scientist as an ongoing initiative to bring leaders and practitioners from across the Department of Defense, other government agencies, academia and industry in an effort to expand the Army's understanding and knowledge of the current and future operational environments. The Mad Scientist events have existed since early 2015 and are a series of two-day conferences held about three times a year.

It's called Mad Scientist as a hook to get big thinkers interested, Jensen said. Everyone who is invited to speak or be a panelist is officially named a mad scientist, but Jensen joked he should be called the "mad culturalist" since his talk was more about the culture than science.

Jensen said he was invited to be a panelist because he is "innovation buddies" with the woman who organizes the events, and she asked him to speak and be a panelist because of his work in human-centered design and innovation.

"The conference wasn't necessarily about innovation, even though you can make an easy tie to innovation when you're thinking about the future and strategy," Jensen said. "I attempted to tie together design thinking, culture and innovation, and then describe how that would affect your ability, if you do it well, to position yourself for the future."

In a simple flow chart, Jensen described his default view of innovation, where science determines what is possible or impossible; then technology determines what is feasible or infeasible, and then the marketplace either rejects or accepts. This is also where most organizations focus their time and money, Jensen said.

"But what if there is more to the picture?" Jensen asked. "At Carderock, we think there is something even further upstream than science and that's the role of culture. Culture ultimately determines what you allow yourself to imagine in the first place."

This is where Jensen talked about the intersection of culture and innovation and how the two are linked.

"You start realizing that innovation is a social phenomenon, not just a physics or technical phenomenon," Jensen said. "And once you figure that out, you realize that innovation is human centric, which points us to human-centered design. At Carderock, we are using human-centered design to design cultural interventions that impact the capacity for innovation."

Jensen likened culture to the store of potential energy. As an example, he cited an article by Henry Doss, the managing partner at Rainforest Strategies, a management consulting firm focused on innovation. Jensen said Roxie Merritt, a Carderock colleague and director, Corporate Communications, pointed out this article to help him better make his point.

In the article, "The Rhetoric of Innovation," which appeared in the December 2014 issue of Forbes magazine, Doss talks about leadership in a command-and-control culture, where the quality of leadership depends on how clear and concise the directive is, but it's really the culture of the organization that creates the potential energy for innovation to happen in the first place. According to his biography, Ross writes on innovation, the impact of humanities studies on personal growth, and innovation leadership. (To see the article, visit http://www.forbes.com/sites/henrydoss/2014/12/16/the-rhetoric-of-innovation/#4876e54a5e3e/ on a non-NMCI computer.)

Jensen said there were many speakers at the August Mad Scientist event and he garnered a few ideas to incorporate into his work at Carderock, such as the idea that extreme resource concentration, beyond politics of inequality, affects innovation.

Jensen said as a result of his role at the Mad Scientist event, he has been invited to the Army's Title 10 War Games at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania. At Carderock, Jensen is also the program director for the Massive Multiplayer Online Wargame Leveraging the Internet (MMOWGLI), an online multiplayer game used by the Navy and other government agencies to harvest collective intelligence and learn potential scenarios.